Tuesday 24 October 2017

Ignore the PR -- Mediterranean winds can be evil

SAILING

WM Nixon

"WHEN the ship was caught and would not bear up into the wind, we let her drive."

That was the way it was in a Mediterranean autumn about 2,000 years ago, as experienced by St Paul.

Then just four years ago, the big Australian offshore racer Loki was brought north to show how Aussie sailors, toughened in the rugged Sydney-Hobart Race, could make hay in the Middle Sea Race.

Hubris or what? Loki was wrecked on the north coast of Sicily, a shoreline which poses its own local problems.

So, when surprise was expressed at two of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet being disabled within hours of leaving Alicante last weekend to race across the supposedly blue and balmy Mediterranean towards the Straits of Gibraltar on the first 6,500-mile first leg to Capetown, it was evident that the image of the Med as the gentle cradle of civilisation is the greatest PR scam in history.

Oh for sure, the weather can be lovely. And the natural harbours and islands are lovely, too.

Come to that, the diet is excellent, and good for you as well. But, when the weather is obnoxious, the Mediterranean produces its own uniquely evil boat-breaking sea states.

And the only steady winds are notorious persistent regional gales such as the bora, the sirocco, and the levanter, to name but three.

If you want pleasant sailing in a steady breeze, better to trundle up and down the Irish Sea when the Atlantic westerlies are coming off the grass -- as the crews in the Irish Lights ships so neatly put it.

In the Med, with the dust of the Sierra Nevada or the Sahara borne on the breeze, there's seldom wind off the grass. It's something more elemental, underestimated at your peril.

But the pace in the Volvo Ocean Race is such that the leaders -- with Franck Cammas's Groupama 140 miles ahead after holding to the African coast while the other three went west -- are now shaping up for the approach to the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha off the Brazilian coast.

Don't think that Groupama -- with Damian Foxall senior crewman on board -- has it in the bag, however.

A low-pressure area is developing up ahead, which could turn everything back to front: the speeds these new Volvo 70s can achieve, if conditions are right, can wipe out 140 miles in a morning.

There are now just four boats sailing to Cape Town after Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi -- with Justin Slattery on the foredeck -- yesterday retired from the first leg.

"It's been an agonising period but I'm sure we have made the right call. We need enough time in Cape Town to make some modifications to our rigging," Walker said from the boat.

Mike 'Moose' Sanderson's four-year- old Team Sanya, meanwhile, gives cause for concern about materials fatigue. Having pulled out of this stage with hull damage, a large section will have to be replaced if they're to continue in leg two next month.

Back in the real world, 16 boats have been nominated for the Irish Cruiser Racing Association's 'Boat of the Year' award.

Irish Independent

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